Allie Perez & Sarah Holland
In the 48th minute of a crucial non-conference game against Marquette University, Raheem Taylor-Parkes dribbled the ball at full speed down the field. A Marquette defender hip checked Taylor-Parkes at a last chance effort to clear the ball out of the danger zone. Taylor-Parkes spun and recovered while still maintaining control of the ball.
Taylor-Parkes split the defenders. He turned on turbo mode. One soft touch with his right foot pushed the ball forward. Then…with his left foot, BOOM…GOALLLLLL, right into the lower right corner of the net!
Excitement exploded out of Taylor-Parkes. He couldn’t help but sprint towards the UVA bench, falling to his knees, sliding with his hands in the air. This was his first goal as a University of Virginia Cavalier.
Finally getting his turn in the spotlight, it seemed like Taylor-Parkes would have a bright four year career on the University of Virginia men’s soccer team.
“UVA is amazing. It’s giving me the chance to not only grow as a player, but also as a person,” said Taylor-Parkes.
You may think that this is a story about a college men’s soccer player journey on a top-ten ranked team in the nation. But it’s not.
There’s another story to be told about the journey of Raheem Taylor-Parkes, and it’s even better.
It’s about tough choices, overcoming adversity, and the chance of a lifetime.
Raheem Taylor-Parkes was born in Mississauga, Canada. He moved with his family to Tampa, Florida at eight years old. Growing up in Florida, Taylor-Parkes began to play for a competitive travel soccer team, the West Florida Flames. When Taylor-Parkes realized that he stirred up some attention from highly-rated collegiate programs, he entered the US U17 residency program for the US Soccer league. From there, he competed on the Philadelphia Union team.
The Philadelphia Union team exposed Taylor-Parkes to higher level competition. He eventually caught the eye of a handful of respected college soccer programs. Taylor-Parkes earned offers from Oregon State, Syracuse, the University of Virginia, University of South Florida, and Michigan State.
“I chose UVA because they were the defending national champions and I liked the coaching staff as well as the campus and facilities,” Taylor-Parkes declared.
He thought UVA would be his best chance at pursuing his dream to play professionally. The question was when exactly that would happen.
Shortly before entering his third year at UVA, Raheem and his long-time girlfriend who he met at UVA, Alexandra Stamfl, sat at a sushi restaurant in Florida when he got the call. This was the call that he dreamed about his entire life.
Sitting at the edge of his seat, hands shaking, heart pounding in the middle of a sushi restaurant, Taylor-Parkes answered the phone.
“Hello? This is Raheem.”
After a lengthy phone call, Taylor-Parkes hung up the phone. He couldn’t contain his excitement. He had just been offered a trial contract with FC Stade Lausanne-Ouchy, a team based in Switzerland.
As the initial excitement died down, Taylor-Parkes faced reality. Tough decisions had to be made. Playing in Europe is the opportunity to play with the best-of-the-best. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he may never get again. But at the same time, he didn’t know if he wanted to leave his girlfriend, friends and teammates so soon.
On August 2nd, 2018, Taylor-Parkes made up his mind. He decided that he would take the opportunity, on a trial basis, and see where it goes.
“Europe has the best development system. It has more room for me to grow as a player” said Taylor-Parkes.
“In college, you do not have enough time to train and get to be the best you can be.”
It wasn’t as simple as that one factor. In Europe, men start to be recruited between the ages of 16-20. Raheem was 20 when he received the call so he felt like this was the only chance he was going to get to fulfill his dream.
As hard as it was on Taylor-Parkes to make a decision, it was also difficult for the ones closest to him.
“I was really surprised at first, it was super out of the blue and random,” Stampfl said. “We had just planned a date night for when we were both back in Charlottesville for preseason, and it didn’t seem like there was even the option to go.”
But ultimately, the love and support offered by his girlfriend and mother outweighed the whirlwind of difficult emotions.
“I knew it was always his dream to pursue an opportunity overseas. When the opportunity presented itself, I supported Raheem as I knew he could always get his degree after his career,” said Jennifer Taylor, Taylor-Parke’s mother.
“It had always been his dream to try to play in Europe, so I fully expected him to take the opportunity. So, selfishly it was upsetting at first, but I was very supportive after the decision had been made,” Stamfl said.
Raheem’s dream finally came true after many years of hard work, but it came with difficult obstacles that he had to overcome. He knew it was going to be a difficult and growing experience. “I was nervous about the cultural gap (French) but knew it was the first step in something that could potentially be special.”
After making it to Switzerland with FC Stade Lausanne-Ouchy, Raheem realized that he could not sign with the team. There was a rule where non-European citizens could not play for the league. He was there for two months but could not receive any money.
Feeling discouraged, he received a call from a coach in Denmark who was looking for a forward. Raheem, with a new burst of excitement and hope, went to Denmark for another trial with Hobro IK.
“When you’re on trial, it is like a job interview for two weeks straight” exclaimed Raheem. To cope with stress, he took naps and tried to make himself comfortable with the people on the team. “Teammates are really important” explained Raheem.
Training was exhausting and the hardest in his life. After training in Denmark, more bad news came as Raheem did not make the final cut.
The bad news was followed by good news from another coach who wanted him to come on trial for Viborg FF, a second division team. In December (2018), Raheem went on what would be his final European trial. The coach liked what he saw from the ambitious and talented player.
“Soccer is a business, if you are pursuing a career it can be all about luck, who sees you at the right time.”
To Raheem’s disadvantage, the coach was fired and the business director wanted to sign a player who had more experience. With no more options, Raheem started to question his abilities. He decided to return to the US to figure out his next move.
Even with all the challenges, Raheem still described his experience in Europe as “the best because he was competing against professionals every day.” Once he returned to the States, his mom suggested for him to go back to college to finish his degree.
The next question was… where to go from here? Should he return to UVA or find a new home to play soccer for two more years?
Raheem decided he wanted a change. His mom agreed that it would be hard to return to UVA because “it may not be the same as when you left.”
Returning to college soccer was not easy. Out of 25 schools Raheem was looking into, only 4 schools (Oregon State University, University of South Carolina, University of South Florida and University of Portland) offered him spots on their rosters.
After a lot of contemplation, Raheem decided his new home for the next two years would be Oregon State University. But it came at a cost.
During his time in Denmark, Raheem played a friendly game which resulted in a 50% ban on season games when he returns. Once he can play he expects to a valuable player due to his experience and growth from the past year.
“The hardest part about transitioning back is waiting to become eligible and just watching the team play.”
In the classroom, Raheem has a new appreciation for school and knows how important getting an education is for his future. At UVA, school was not a priority; playing professionally was. After coming back to the US, Raheem is more focused on his studies. He is studying public health but has not given up on his dream to play professionally.
“Patience, do not force anything, sometimes you have to wait.”